Recent Commonplace Entries


Letter to a Young Poet

The fall of a girl’s hair, the flare of a skirt –

the merciless daily things that break your heart

Are there for you to learn your skills from. The hurt

Of living is what stings us into art.

Cool your desires to ice, then start to play.

Compose it all like music: use what you need:

Secrets; strange worlds; failed love; friends gone away.

Each poem’s a rock-hard crystal, grown from a seed.

Dig down and find the past: dead kings; old war;

Wonder-filled days; riding your first steam train;

Mysteries; why men don’t whistle any more.

Honour the things that won’t come back again.

Remember politics, but don’t digest them whole.

(That shimmering emblem trailed across the sky

Will ravel out your mind, destroy your soul

And fill the world with less while millions die.)

Be sure of nothing: youth’s no time to be wise.

The Truth will let you in on its own plan.

Travel: possess the girl: enjoy each prize.

Don’t think too much about writing. Live while you can.

(By Colin Falck, published in the Spectator, February 13)

“There are also considerations of reticence and taste, and most of all, a realization that every human life is at once so complex and so simple, so perplexing and so clear, so superficial and so profound, that any attempt to present it as a unified, consistent whole, to enclose it within a rigid frame, inevitably tempts one to cheat or falsify.” (from Introduction to Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows)

“The world I had built up in my imagination was unlike any country upon land or sea. It was a phantasmagoria of Queen Anne country houses and Oxford colleges and libraries, of village cricket and nursery tea, of hollyhocks in cottage gardens and cathedral spires, of friends, friends, friends with whom I could be at ease, and of a deep swift stream perpetually gliding between green banks, while a young man (his contours still somewhat blurred) read poetry aloud to me.” (from Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows, p 226)

“The world will never know my life, even if it should write and read a hundred biographies of me. The main facts of it are known, and are likely to be known, to myself alone, of all created men.” (Thomas Carlyle, from Froude’s Life, quoted by Iris Origo in Images and Shadows, p 241)

“On the contrary, I think that people of my age should have the courage to maintain a certain loyalty of the taste that they have acquired through many years of devotion to one of the arts, and frankly to admit what they do or do not enjoy. One need never again, for instance, listen to an opera by Wagner, if that happens to be one of one’s blind spots, nor read the novels of Stendhal, nor the works of Simone de Beauvoir, nor look at a picture by Dali.” (from Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows, p 266)

“People who sound insincere all the time, he [Shorty] thought to himself, should not expect others to notice the difference when they try to sound insincere.” (From Kingsley Amis’s Ending Up, Chapter 18)

“A private grievance is never so dangerous as when it can be identified with a matter of principle.” (J. M. Thompson, according to Harold L, Schechter and Peter S. Deriabin in The Spy Who Saved the World, p 389, citing Alan Studner in CIA paper A Study of Treason)

“Few things in politics are sadder than a nostalgist unaware that the circus has moved on. In Britain, the main function of the works of Friedrich Hayek and his school now seems to be to supply a Zoom backdrop for the increasingly forlorn public interventions of the backbench libertarian MP Steve Baker.” (Jonathan Parry in London Review of Books, March 18)

“The Union fell apart without great bloodshed, as if on its own, and they were corrupted by the ease of the collapse and therefore unprepared for resistance. They thought that all evil had been contained in the USSR and now that there was no Union, things would take the right path; they did not understand that evil was a part of history and that democracy was a system for minimizing evil and not for the triumph of good. Now they were twice orphaned because the country of their birth was gone and the country in which they grew up was also gone.” (from Sergei Lebedev’s The Goose Fritz, pp 67-68)

“The price of misfires, accidents, bad coincidences was very high in that world; in it, a ridiculous suspicion, a nasty rumor, a mean gaze had great power to control reality – because fractional people are more vulnerable than whole ones, it is much easier to present them as demons in the current political bestiary.” (from Sergei Lebedev’s The Goose Fritz, p 242)

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